The Regional School Unit 9 board of directors votes Tuesday in the Forum at the Mt. Blue Campus in Farmington to form a turf committee for Caldwell Field at the Mt. Blue Campus. Several directors shared concerns about the potential health risk of synthetic turf. Director Jeff Barnum cited liver failure and certain cancer risks linked to synthetic turf. Brian Ponce/Franklin Journal

FARMINGTON — The Regional School Unit 9 board of directors voted 14-2 Tuesday to establish a turf committee and move forward to improve Caldwell Field at Mt. Blue High School.

The committee will include board members Joshua Robbins of Vienna and Barnum, Mt. Blue High School Principal Joel Smith, RSU 9 Athletic Director Cyndi Pratt, Mt. Blue Middle School Principal and Director of Operations James Black, and Mt. Blue High School All Sports Boosters Representatives Mike Bolduc and Matt Casavant.

Voting in favor were Chairperson Dorothy Robinson of Chesterville, Wayne Kinney, Gloria McGraw, Scott Erb and Will Jones, all of Farmington, Judith Kaut of New Sharon, Carol Coles of Starks, Greg Kimber of Temple, Joshua Robbins of Vienna, Debbie Smith of Weld, Amanda Caruso and Kyle Fletcher, both of Wilton, Student Representatives Abigail Goodspeed and Brielle Tinker.

Opposed were Janice David of Farmington and Jeff Barnum of New Vineyard, who cited concerns about the potential health hazards with synthetic turf.

Directors Gwen Doak of Wilton and Richard Ruhlin of Industry were not present.

Regional School Unit 9 Director Jeff Barnum of New Vineyard shares his concerns at Tuesday night’s board meeting in Farmington about potential health risks of using synthetic turf on Caldwell Field at Mt. Blue Complex. Brian Ponce/Franklin Journal

Black and Smith presented a report that includes the strategic plan, cost overview, community feedback, and vision of the committee, which is also available for the public. The estimate for resurfacing the field is $1.67 million, including, $694,479 for site preparation and landscaping, $97,227 for construction and $880,990 for materials. The committee’s goal is to have the field done for 2026.


Barnum called the report “premature,” saying he believed the committee should investigate the potential health side effects of synthetic turf before committing to costs and setting a completion date.

He also thought the wording of the report meant directors had committed to synthetic turf before hearing about potential health risks. He said the committee should consult a medical professional for an informed opinion.

Several other board members shared Barnum’s hesitation.

Director Jones said he favored synthetic turf, but agreed more research should be done into health risks.

Barnum listed side effects such as liver and kidney damage, infertility, immune system disruptions, and certain cancer risks.

Erb clarified the motion on the floor was to establish a committee for a synthetic turf field and that the board voted in favor of synthetic turf at a meeting in January.


“As a potential member of this committee, I see three basic options,” Robbins said, taking no action, repairing what is in place, and seeking an “artificial surface.”

“I think that it really is important for a committee such as the one that’s proposed to take a careful look at all of those options,” he added.

Several directors called the discussion “off-topic,” with Superintendent Christian Elkington stepping in to defend the committee.

“There have been several comments made questioning the character of the people who are on the committee,” he said. He clarified the vote in January was specifically for synthetic turf and the discussion taking place was not relevant to the vote on the floor.

“I guess if we need to add some more members to this group, then we’ll add some more members,” Elkington said. “But we’re now getting into the point of, and it doesn’t make this easy for me to say this because I have complete respect for everybody here, but we have gone way off track, and as superintendent of schools in RSU 9, I can’t put up with this anymore.”

The committee was formed after the Mt. Blue High School All Sports Boosters approached directors in July 2023 proposing fundraising to install synthetic turf on Caldwell Field.

Boosters President Mike Bolduc told the board the current condition of the field only makes it available for play three months out of the year.

In January, the board authorized the Boosters to raise money for a new field, including naming rights of the athletic complex for a contribution of at least 50% of the total cost, which boosters estimated to be roughly $800,000.

In February, Ruhlin spoke on behalf of the boosters, saying they halted all fundraising efforts, citing “disappointment” and “frustration by the lack of clarity and direction” coming from RSU 9 directors as to what they should be doing moving forward.

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